Hawai‘i’s pioneer burlesque house was the Beretania Theater, located at 1229 Kamanuwai Lane in a congested urban slum on the mauka edge of Honolulu’s Chinatown. Built originally around 1936 or 1937 as a neighborhood movie theater, the Beretania was bought in 1944 by William C. Ferreira and was used during the next few years mostly for “adults only” films. These pictures, typically made on shoestring budgets by marginal producers, were fairly steamy by the inhibited standards of the times but in retrospect seem pretty tepid.
In 1947, Ferreira renamed his theater the Beretania Follies, erected a saucy neon sign above the entrance, and initiated regular stage shows, with a review called “Cover Girl Scandals.” The Follies’ new live offerings invariably featured leggy strippers and baggy-pants comedians.
All of this naughtiness soon attracted the attention of police and church members. The Catholic diocese complained to the police, who promptly closed the show and charged the cast with gross indecency. District Court Magistrate Clifton Tracy declined to act, however, until he had viewed the offending acts. The judge then ruled, “The women in this show were as well clothed as the women on the beach at Waikiki and the jokes were corny.”
Although the defendants in this landmark case were described as “malihini wahines,” local girls eventually achieved stripping stardom. One of the first was a talented dancer billed as Orchid Kainoa but identified by associates as Jeanette Morse, who around 1959 performed to great acclaim at the Ginbasha and other Honolulu night spots.
By Robert C. Schmitt